Oct 31, 2019

Axios Login

Ina Fried

Congrats to the Washington Nationals (and all their Login-reading fans) for winning their first World Series.

Today's Login is 1,275 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Twitter aims to be the anti-Facebook

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Twitter's move to ban political ads is just the latest of several moves by the platform to position itself as an antidote to what critics see as Facebook's missteps and ethical lapses, Axios' Sara Fischer and I report.

Why it matters: The free speech banner Facebook is waving used to be shared by most of the big social media companies. A Twitter exec once called the company "the free speech wing of the free speech party."

  • But amid an extraordinary backlash toward Facebook from critics angered at its role in spreading misinformation, its rivals are distancing themselves — and are using the moment to frame their free speech principles as better suited to the era of social media.

Driving the news: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Wednesday in a series of tweets that his company will no longer accept political or advocacy advertising of any kind on its platform.

  • Dorsey said Twitter acknowledges that a tech platform's unique ability to distribute ads in a highly targeted manner, and with easily tested and customizable messaging, is different from the advertising opportunity on broadcast TV — where networks are required by law to run ads from all political candidates, regardless of their factual accuracy.

The big picture: Twitter has made a concerted effort over the past two weeks to separate its policies from Facebook, although this was the most visible effort to knock its rival so far.

  • Last week at Twitter's News Summit, Dorsey said that a revenue split between Twitter and publishers is probably more sustainable for now than paying publishers — a direct jab at Facebook's new "News Tab," which will be spending millions to pay a collection of publishers.
  • Dorsey also refused to say that Twitter "wasn't" a media company, something Facebook has long denied.
  • He acknowledged that the company has used journalists to curate its "Moments" tab for a while. Facebook only recently announced that it would hire journalists as a part of the News Tab efforts.
  • Dorsey also poked Facebook by announcing Twitter's new ads policy Wednesday just minutes before Facebook released its quarterly earnings report.

Yes, but: Political ads don't make up a significant revenue stream for Twitter, so this was an easier decision for it to make than it would be f0r Facebook.

  • Fact check: Twitter chief financial officer Ned Segal reiterated Wednesday that Twitter made less than $3 million in political ad revenue during the 2018 midterms. Facebook says that less than 5% of its ad revenue comes from political and issue ads.

Others argue Twitter's decision will hurt less-known candidates and groups that can't afford to buy expensive political ads on radio and TV.

  • Plus: Twitter still has a hard time enforcing its rules around hate speech, harassment and other areas, and drawing a line around political ads could prove tough.

Our thought bubble: As both platforms have tackled this issue over the past two weeks, Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have laid out deeply different visions of their platforms' place in the world.

  • Dorsey wants Twitter to be a part of the internet, and to build his product around the culture and expectations of internet users around the world.
  • Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the internet, and to create the culture and expectations of internet users around the world.

The bottom line: This is a big step for Twitter, and it may put pressure on other digital platforms to follow suit.

2. Pressure grows on Facebook to drop political ads

Twitter's move to ban political advertising is ratcheting up the pressure on Facebook to change its policies.

Why it matters: Critics have blasted Facebook for allowing candidates to essentially lie at will in their advertising on the social network, and some Facebook employees are lobbying their management to change course.

Be smart: Even Facebook is struggling to stick to its policy.

  • Zuckerberg told Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during hearings last week that she probably could take out an ad falsely claiming Republicans support the Green New Deal.
  • Then the company took down an ad that falsely claimed Lindsey Graham did so, since the ad was bought by a political action committee, not a candidate.
  • But then, after a California marketing exec named Adriel Hampton filed to run for governor so he could challenge Facebook's rules, Facebook said it would bar his ads, too (per Recode).

What they're saying:

  • Hillary Clinton, commenting on Twitter's announcement of a ban on political ads: "This is the right thing to do for democracy in America and all over the world. What say you, @Facebook?"
  • Center for Humane Technology co-founder Tristan Harris: "We are calling on Facebook to join these companies and ban political ads outright. The challenge of monitoring targeted ads for intentional falsehood is too great, and the risk to democracy — and truth itself — call for bold action. It's time to arrest 'truth decay' and ban political ads now." 
  • Facebook head of news partnerships Campbell Brown, on Facebook:
    "Having spent most of my pre-Facebook career as a journalist covering politics, I have been astonished at the reaction by other journalists to Facebook's decision not to police speech from political candidates. I strongly believe it should be the role of the press to dissect the truth or lies found in political ads — not engineers at a tech company."
  • Zuckerberg (on earnings call): "Google, YouTube and most Internet platforms run these same ads. Most cable networks run these same ads and of course national broadcasters are required by law to run them by FCC regulations. And I think that there are good reasons for this. In a democracy, I don't think it's right for private companies to censor politicians or the news."
3. U.S. tech companies bemoan trade barriers

Aiming to stem the power and profits of big U.S. tech companies, governments around the world have imposed a variety of measures, from digital taxes to requirements that data be stored locally. However, as Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports, the companies are starting to fight back.

Driving the news:

  • In a release Thursday, the Internet Association called out India, Indonesia, and South Africa for pushing some of the "most problematic barriers to digital trade," including custom requirements on digital transactions.
  • The Computer & Communications Industry Association highlighted online content regulations, the "link tax" from the EU Copyright Directive and anti-encryption laws in its filing.

The big picture: The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative put a spotlight on digital trade issues this spring in its annual report on barriers to American exports, and the tech industry wants its issues prioritized as the office prepares next year's report.

  • Other countries, meanwhile, say they are just looking to protect their citizens' data and get U.S. tech companies to pay their fair share of the vast profits they are making.

What's next: USTR will review the submissions for the 2020 National Trade Estimate, which is meant to aid U.S. negotiators as they work to reduce the barriers.

4. Charted: Students say Big Tech is good for society
Expand chart
Data: CollegeReaction poll conducted Oct. 8–10, 2019 among 840 college students. Total margin of error is ±3.3 percentage points; Chart: Axios Visuals

More than 70% of university students believe that big tech companies are a net benefit to society, according to a new survey from College Reaction.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Pinterest reports earnings after the markets close.
  • Authorities warn that gangs of cloaked youths will be going door-to-door this evening in an effort to extract candy from residents.

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6. After you Login

Enjoy your Halloween costume, even if it will never top this one.

Ina Fried